There’s Still Time to Enjoy the O, Miami Poetry Festival

O, Miami founder P. Scott CunninghamEXPAND
O, Miami founder P. Scott Cunningham
Photo courtesy of O, Miami Poetry Festival
Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Miami and help keep the future of New Times free.

Three years ago, poet and O, Miami founder P. Scott Cunningham was gearing up for his annual monthlong poetry festival. March is the busiest month for the organizer because he finalizes any missing details for the April event. He began to feel under the weather and was certain it was nothing serious, probably just a cold. He could push through it and keep working; everything would be fine.

Four days into O, Miami 2017, Cunningham passed out and didn't wake up until nearly a full day later. His wife had rushed him to the hospital. Turned out Cunningham had something a bit more severe than a cold or flu. He was diagnosed with viral encephalitis, an infection that affects the brain and causes seizures.

“It was a sobering experience,” Cunningham says in retrospect. “It taught me that balance is important in all things. It was all normal until it was too late and it wasn’t normal anymore. I think [the coronavirus] is the same thing. You can’t really see the danger until the danger is there. All you can do is take precautions.”

Three years later, that memory is more relevant than ever for Cunningham and his family as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus threatens the community. The festival's board of directors decided in early March to cancel the April festival. The decision was unanimous, he says.

In-person events are off the table this year, but “we also talked about what we could do if we couldn’t meet,” Cunningham tells New Times. One day after canceling the events, the O, Miami team commenced planning a virtual, wholly online poetry experience.

It took Cunningham and his crew two weeks to draw up a blueprint for the new festival, which runs through April 29. "It was kind of nice to be able to focus on something that was positive and felt like a break from the stress of everything else," he says.

The increasing popularity and ease of use of the video-conferencing service Zoom took much of the grunt work out of putting on a virtual festival. All of the workshops are organized as Zoom meetings. When a patron registers for an event on omiami.org, they'll get a confirmation email that contains the meeting ID.

From O, Miami's 2016 lawn sign project.EXPAND
From O, Miami's 2016 lawn sign project.
Photo courtesy of P. Scott Cunningham

“I think this is the first time a lot of people have attended a Zoom poetry reading or workshop,” Cunningham says with a laugh. “We’ve never done anything exactly like this. It’s an experiment for us and an experiment for the audience too.”

The virtual program is almost identical to the original lineup. About 85 percent of the workshops and readings are free, Cunningham says, and a few are priced on a sliding scale. Part of the reason for still charging fees for some workshops is to ensure those who sign up attend — this is Miami, after all. Also, poets need to get paid.

“It was important for us to honor the artist fees that we'd already committed to,” Cunningham says. “A lot of the poets we’re working with this month make a living from appearance fees, and almost everything [they had scheduled] after O, Miami got canceled.”

A father of two, Cunningham says he’s most looking forward to the children’s poetry workshops. It can be taxing keeping little ones entertained, especially during a stay-at-home order. “I see firsthand how great it is when there’s an activity you can actually do with your kid when you’re stuck inside,” he says, adding how he’ll participate in those workshops with his kids.

Since its inception nearly a decade ago, O, Miami has aimed to have a poem reach every person in the city during April. And in these crazy, pandemic-stricken times, perhaps a poem is exactly what people need now more than ever.

The festival is already looking ahead to 2021, which will mark O, Miami's tenth anniversary.

“I think there’s definitely some uncertainty for next year,” Cunningham admits. “But no matter what, we will work with what we have and put on the best possible festival that we can. We’ll make the best of it no matter what the situation is.”

O, Miami Poetry Festival. Daily through Wednesday, April 29. Visit omiami.org for tickets and a complete lineup.

Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Miami.